(1967) Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis; Written by James F. Hurley; Starring: Tony McCabe, Elizabeth Lee, William Brooker, Mudite Arums, Ted Heil and Lawrence J. Aberwood; Available on DVD
“The witch has a painting on her leg, which is a mouth. There are areas in here where we truly intended to keep the audience a little off-balance as to what was happening.” – Herschell Gordon Lewis (from DVD commentary)
Many thanks to Rebecca from Taking Up Room for hosting another round of the So Bad It’s Good Blogathon, celebrating the best of the worst. After reviewing Blood Feast for last year’s blogathon, I’m back with a look at another Herschell Gordon Lewis movie that truly lives up to its title.
Hey, do you wanna see Something Weird? Well, yes, I often cover the weird side of cinema on this blog, but this time, it’s literally the movie, Something Weird.*/** H.G. Lewis *** was a showman first, with filmmaking a distant second priority, which informed his quick and cheap approach. His aptly named movie, with its ESP-meets-LSD theme, was shot in Chicago in under two weeks for a budget of roughly $35,000. As with H.G. Lewis’ other productions, don’t expect great acting, story, cinematography, or anything profound – but that’s not the point. The film was purposely designed to be part of a double bill (most likely at second-rate grindhouses and drive-ins), and in his words, “It didn’t detract” (High praise, indeed). Typical of H.G. Lewis casting, you can expect doughy middle-aged men that recite their lines like they’re perusing a cafeteria menu, and young women that are easy on the eyes, but have all the personality of a sea slug. The filmmaker admitted that he especially looked for actors that showed up and knew their lines, so there you have it.
* Fun Fact #1: The movie started out with the Jim Hurley script, The Eerie World of Dr. Jordan. Lewis didn’t think it had box office potential, as written, so he made multiple changes.
** Fun Fact #2: According to Lewis, the original title of Blood Feast was Something Weird. Several years later, when he made today’s film in question, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to repurpose the title.
*** A Word to the Wise: Unless you need a cure for insomnia, I strongly recommend skipping the Something Weird DVD commentary. Mr. Lewis only appears in the first 5-10 minutes, while for most of the film’s run time, it’s about the origins of Something Weird Video, as recollected by its late founder Mike Vraney. I’m sure there’s a fascinating story there somewhere, but you won’t find it here.
After a mishap with a downed power line, Cronin Mitchell (Tony McCabe) gains the gift of second sight, but his face is horribly disfigured. A hideous witch (Mudite Arums) seemingly appears out of nowhere, promising to restore his appearance if he becomes her lover (think of every stereotypical portrayal of a cackling, warty-faced old crone, minus the pointy hat, and you have a pretty good idea). To everyone else, she appears as Ellen Parker (Elizabeth Lee), a blonde bombshell. He reluctantly accepts the witch’s offer, taking on a partnership of sorts. Mitchell’s ability to predict people’s futures becomes a more lucrative business than his former profession (whatever that was), and he’s soon enlisted by the local police department to help solve a serial murder case. Enter kung-fu-kicking federal agent Dr. Alex Jordan (William Brooker) who’s interested in Mitchell’s extraordinary talent. Thinking it might enhance Mitchell’s extrasensory abilities, Jordan provides a vial of LSD, and trippy hijinks ensue.
Something Weird is filled with moments that will likely have you questioning if someone spiked your morning coffee with something more potent than caffeine. The top highlight is the cartoonishly over-the-top performance by the aforementioned Arums,* who deserved her own origin movie. There’s also the requisite LSD hallucination scene** tinted orange (where Mitchell learns the identity of the killer) and a wayward ghost in a church. But the biggest “what did I just watch” moment belongs to Dr. Jordan, when he settles down for a good night’s sleep, only to find himself battling a blanket with malevolent intentions (No, really!).
* Fun Fact #3: Searching several databases for Mudite Arums yielded nothing, other than the fact that this film was her sole acting credit, leading me to wonder if her unusual name was an anagram. If anyone has insight into the mystery, let me know.
** Fun Fact #4: 1967 was a banner year for movies about lysergic acid diethylamide, including The Trip, LSD Flesh of Devil, The Love-Ins, The Weird World of LSD, and The Acid Eaters (produced by former H.G. Lewis business partner David F. Friedman).
Of course, none of this exactly adds up to a cohesive whole. Arguably, Something Weird has first, second and third acts, but I’d wager no one would ever describe the plot as tightly constructed or more than marginally coherent. Instead, think of the movie as a mélange of different elements shoehorned into an 80-minute package. If remembered at all, it’s best recalled for its individual moments, rather than a whole. If you’re anything like me (not that I’m wishing that on anyone else, mind you), however, you’ll appreciate these moments, recognizing the fact that schlock needs love too. At the end of the day, the question remains, does Something Weird live up to its title? Why, yes it does. So, watch it with the libation of your choice, turn off your brain, and tune into the psychedelic vibes.
Sources for this article: Something Weird DVD commentary by H.G. Lewis, David F. Friedman and Mike Vraney; Herschell Gordon Lewis interview with Boyd Rice, Incredibly Strange Films